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Bringing careers education and mental health awareness together

To mark the beginning of Mental Health Awareness week, 10-16 May, we hear from Sarah Harrison, Careers Lead . She tells us how she supports her own mental wellbeing as a Careers Leader and what Horizon Community College is doing on mental health awareness and how they are making it part of their careers programme. 

I am the Careers Lead at one of the biggest secondary schools in the UK, Horizon Community College, based in Barnsley. I head up a team of 6 career specialists who deliver a diverse and inclusive careers programme from Y7 to Y11.

On the surface you may think that careers and student wellbeing have some linkages but as a team we believe that an inclusive careers programme underpins young people’s mental health.

There is nothing more powerful than giving people direction, opportunities and therefore hope for the future. Coupled with equipping them with the skills to navigate their career journey ahead we believe that it can truly give them the best start and, in some cases, help them overcome or cope with a variety of mental health issues. This is never truer than in this post-covid age.

In my experience young people are far more open about talking about mental health and stigmatize it far less than older generations. This can only be a good thing and I believe places this generation in a unique position to really change the rhetoric around mental health and talking about it.

Talking about mental health is so important and I see it very much as checking in. In much the same way that you ask about someone’s physical health in passing, doing that and making that question about their entire wellbeing can create a culture of support and hopefully an environment where people feel they can talk openly without judgement. That can often be the first step to helping someone. We all have tough days and times in our lives when even a small gesture can make such a difference and that first and genuine enquiry may lead to a conversation that could change that person’s day or life.  

How we’re bringing together mental health awareness and our careers programme

For Mental health Awareness Week this year, Horizon Community College is organising a week of activities that span lessons, extra-curricular, drop-ins at lunch and that will involve every student and member of staff in the school.

The careers team and the Head of Personal Development, with our student support teams, have put together a great programme of events that don’t  just highlight careers in mental health but are about promoting great mental health at all stages of life and career. It will be a week to really promote the importance and benefits of looking after your mental health and how to do that.

How I support my own mental wellbeing as a Careers Leader

In my role I often have to take on many roles and tasks as well as deal with many problems at one time. In the last year our reference points have had to change so many times and for me some of the mechanisms that I use to keep my mental health and wellbeing positive have been diminished.

Holidays, socialising, being able to cook or eat with family or friends are what help me to maintain my mental health.

Personally, I am very much with the Mental Health Foundations theme of Nature this year. (#ConnectWithNature). I am lucky to live in a beautiful part of the country and being able to step outside my front door in every season and walk up into the hills has meant that I have been able to maintain my wellbeing.

My friends and colleagues say that my superpower is “annoying positivity” but in the last year that power has been tested. Luckily for me however I am surrounded by great colleagues who do check in on each other and listen to the answer.

In Mental Health Awareness Week my message would be when you ask someone how they are, pause, and listen to the answer; it may be the start of a wider conversation or it might just make their day better.

For information about our Mental Health Week activities please feel free to contact me directly: sharrison@horizoncc.co.uk